| December 5, 2011

Parents Deserve Preschool Choices

In each of the last two years, thanks to a special-needs scholarship bill signed by Gov. Brad Henry and an equal-opportunity scholarship bill signed by Gov. Mary Fallin, parents have been given more educational options for their children from preschool to high school.

In 2012, let’s give the parents of preschoolers even more choices.

Some may think this unnecessary, given the popularity of Oklahoma’s government-run preschool program. Enrollment is high, and parents enrolling their four-year-olds (and in some cases three-year-olds) aren’t bashful about telling reporters how much money they’ll be saving in daycare costs. I suppose one could say they are “choosing” this “popular” program. As George Bernard Shaw taught us, “a government which robs Peter to pay Paul can always depend on the support of Paul.”

And even though this expensive middle-class entitlement is voluntary, what’s not voluntary is the average Oklahoman being forced to work three months a year in order to pay the federal, state, and local tax collectors—who in turn pay the salaries of lots of grown-ups who look after these little tykes.

Education reporter Mike Antonucci once asked, “If the government, under the force of law, takes money from my paycheck every month to supply me and every other citizen with a Yugo, and I choose not to spend additional personal income on a Chevy, am I ‘choosing’ the Yugo?”

A SoonerPoll question from August 2011 may shed some light: “In two important ways, Oklahoma is a national leader in early childhood education. First, among all the states Oklahoma has the highest percentage of four-year-olds in state-funded preschool programs. Secondly, Oklahoma is one of the few states that offer a tax break for stay-at-home parents. Assuming there is a limited amount of money, which of the following do you think should take precedence: Increasing the amount of money spent on preschool programs for four-year-olds, or expanding the tax break for parents who stay at home with their four-year-olds?”

Oklahomans prefer the tax break by a margin of 55 percent to 31 percent.

Parents want more choices. Here’s how Gov. Fallin and the legislature could deliver.

Phase out the Oklahoma income tax over 10 years and replace it with nothing. This will supercharge Oklahomans’ family budgets while still allowing the state budget to grow (as demonstrated in a new OCPA report, “Eliminating the State Income Tax in Oklahoma: An Economic Assessment”).

If policymakers can’t bring themselves to ax the tax, then expand the child tax credit referenced in the SoonerPoll question above. Another option would be an early education tax credit—model legislation is available from the Cato Institute, the Home School Legal Defense Association, and the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC).

In addition, create Arizona-style Education Savings Accounts, but for preschoolers. These would allow parents to redirect some of the public-school funds allocated for their preschooler to the educational options of their own choosing (again, ALEC has model legislation).

The government shouldn’t have a monopoly on “early childhood education.” It’s time for Oklahoma to diversify its preschool portfolio.1211HeritageChart.jpg

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